French sports stars call on voters to reject Le Pen

Grand Slam-winning rugby star Antoine Dupont and cycling’s Thibault Pinot are among 50 athletes to sign an open letter urging the French not to vote for Marine Le Pen in the second round of the Presidential elections.

France's scrum-half Antoine Dupont celebrates after winning the 2022 Six Nations tournament.
France's scrum-half Antoine Dupont celebrates after winning the 2022 Six Nations tournament. (Photo: Franck Fife / AFP)

With polls showing a tight race between incumbent Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival, French stars from a range of sporting disciplines have joined forces and urged voters to elect Macron.

Dupont and Pinot have been joined by – among dozens of others – basketball hero Tony Parker, paralympic skiing champion Marie Bochet, tennis stars Yannick Noah and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Olympic judo gold medallist Clarisse Agbégnénou, and footballer Dimitri Payet.

The letter, published in French daily Le Parisien, reminded voters that France’s next head of state will open the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. 

 “We cannot imagine that this historic moment could be scarred by the presence of the extreme right,” they wrote.

“Although we are well aware of the difficulties facing many people in France, voting for a party that would endanger republican values would be the worst of solutions.

“The sport we believe in, the one of the Olympic values, is made of friendship and respect; it is the place of diversity. It refuses all discrimination. Everywhere in the country, in our cities, our suburbs and our countryside, sport is a powerful remedy to exclusion.

“In these uncertain times, it is a vector of togetherness. This is the case when a whole nation remembers that it is ONE by cheering in unison behind the exploits of its athletes.

“It is because we believe in this sport, fraternal and inclusive, that we are committed to preventing our nation from placing at its head a president who embodies the very opposite; the stigmatisation of the other, withdrawal, nationalism. And that we therefore call for a vote for Emmanuel Macron on April 24th.”

Paralympic wheelchair tennis champion Michaël Jeremiasz told France Info that the letter had come about after “discussions with several sportspeople based on a common conviction of the urgency of the situation”.

“Our cultural and ethnic origins should not be a determinant of anything. 

“That’s not the France I want to live in, the values I have, or that I want to pass on to my child. The idea is to unite men and women around universal values of togetherness and tolerance, for a fairer and less discriminatory society.” 

Five years ago, some 60 athletes signed an open letter calling on voters to reject Le Pen in the second round of the 2017 election.

Signatories: Clarisse Agbégnénou (judo), Samir Aït Saïd (gymnastics), Valériane Ayayi Vukosavljević (basketball), Brahim Asloum (boxing), Romain Bardet (cycling), Cécilia Berder (fencing), Alain Bernard (swimming), Marie Bochet (skiing), Laure Boulleau (football), Justine Braisaz-Bouchet (biathlon), Romain Cannone (fencing), Souleymane Cissokho (boxing), Élodie Clouvel (pentathlon), Cléopâtre Darleux (handball), Isabelle Demongeot (tennis), Stéphane Diagana (athletics), Boris Diaw (basketball), Céline Dumerc (basketball), Antoine Dupont (rugby), Gévrise Émane (judo), Maud Fontenoy (sailing), Pierre Gasly (F1), Edgar Grospiron (mogul skiing), Amandine Henry (football), Stéphane Houdet (tennis), Muriel Hurtis (athlétisme), Mickaël Jeremiasz (tennis), Nikola Karabatic (handball), Raphaël Ibañez (rugby), Jean Le Cam (sailing), Eugénie Le Sommer (football), Christophe Lemaitre (athletics), Laure Manaudou (swimming), Blaise Matuidi (football), Frédéric Michalak (rugby), Estelle Mossely (boxing), Earvin Ngapeth (volleyball), Valérie Nicolas (handball), Yannick Noah (tennis), Sarah Ourahmoune (boxing), Jean-Pierre Papin (football), Tony Parker (basketball), Dimitri Payet (football), Marie-José Pérec (athletics), Allison Pineau (handball), Thibaut Pinot (cycling), Jackson Richardson (handball), Charles Rozoy (swimming), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (tennis), Jessy Trémoulière (rugby), Cameron Woki (rugby), Tony Yoka (boxing).

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‘They can be quite harsh’: French Open fans draw heat at Roland Garros

"It's better to have the crowd on your side than against you," French star admits

'They can be quite harsh': French Open fans draw heat at Roland Garros

Henri Leconte claimed he was so badly abused after he lost the 1988 Roland Garros final that he was even booed when he popped out to buy a baguette – and he was French.

After two pandemic-hit years, fans have returned en masse to the tournament, even if many non-French players secretly wish they had stayed at home.

Without a men’s champion since 1983 and no women’s title winner since 2000, home fans are desperate to push their stars over the line.

Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 champion, felt the full impact of 15,000 fans inside Court Philippe Chatrier on Thursday night when she was defeated by Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

The Latvian covered her ears with her hands to block out the cacophony.

“Poor opponent, it was difficult for her. That’s the advantage when you’re a French player,” said Cornet after claiming a second round 6-0, 1-6, 6-3 win.

“I didn’t expect so many people. They were so fired up. From the first till the last point they didn’t stop supporting me, they carried me. In the third it made the difference because my opponent was a bit annoyed and it gave me a lot of energy.”

However, Cornet, an 18-year veteran of the tournament, warned that if standards slip, then the crowd will quickly voice their displeasure.

“They can be quite harsh,” she admitted. “It’s better to have the crowd on your side than against you. They boo easily. They upset players, and when the crowd is not on your side, it can be very tough.”

‘Making eye contact’
Australia’s Alex de Minaur believes some French fans crossed the line in his five-set defeat to Hugo Gaston on Tuesday on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

The noise and singing of the 11,000-strong crowd, which eventually stretched to thousands of fans belting out ‘Happy Birthday’ to Gaston’s girlfriend, riled the normally unflappable Australian.

“There is a difference between a great atmosphere and supporting your fellow countrymen,” said the 23-year-old Australian.

“But there is a line when I’m getting told things by people in the crowd, making eye contact with me after I hit a double fault.”

Gaston is still in the tournament and will face 19-year-old Holger Rune on Saturday. “I used the crowd. They were fantastic.”

Ostapenko is not the only former champion to have felt the passion of the Paris crowd. Garbine Muguruza’s title defence in 2017 was ended by Kristina Mladenovic, again on a raucous Court Suzanne Lenglen.

The trauma was so severe that the Spaniard was reduced to tears at her post-match news conference.

Baguette boos
“The crowd was a little bit tough for me. I understand. I just think that they should be a little bit more respectful for the game because we had to stop. The chair umpire had to always calm the crowd down,” said Muguruza.

Aware that she would have many future visits to the French capital to negotiate, she added: “I’m not here to create enemies.”

Leconte, now 58, can sympathise. He was part of France’s Davis Cup winning team in 1991 and was a Roland Garros doubles champion in 1984. He even went as high as five in the world rankings.

But losing in straight sets to Mats Wilander in the 1988 final was a failure fans could not forgive.

He remains the last Frenchman to reach the championship match.

“It was the lowest point of my life,” he told in 2020, the memory still raw even 32 years later.

“After I lost that final, I couldn’t even go outside to buy a baguette. They just booing me all the time. I had to go outside of France.”